1540 and the Biological Weapons Convention

Download PDF Version of this Article

Through resolution 1540 (UNSCR 1540), the Security Council called upon States "to renew and fulfill their commitment to multilateral cooperation, in particular within the framework of the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons and the Biological and Toxin Weapons Convention [BWC], as important means of pursuing and achieving their common objectives in the area of non-proliferation and of promoting international cooperation for ... universal adoption and full implementation, and, where necessary, strengthening of multilateral treaties to which they are parties, whose aim is to prevent the proliferation of nuclear, biological or chemical weapons." As such, UNSCR 1540 complements and reinforces existing nonproliferation regimes.

Moreover, the obligations set forth by UNSCR 1540 with regard to biological weapons (BW)-“related materials” (which are in the broad category of “dual use” materials, equipment, and technology) are defined by the Security Council with reference to items, inter alia, “covered by relevant multilateral treaties and arrangements….” thus identifying a clear link between the BWC and UNSCR 1540.

On the other hand, BWC States Parties’ recognition of the synergy and convergence of the common BW-nonproliferation goals and biological-risk-management measures required for implementation of both the BWC and UNSCR 1540 has been a slow and ineffectual process. Since the adoption of the resolution, the 1540 Committee and its experts were invited for the first time in 2013 to attend the BWC Meeting of Experts and the Meeting of States Parties. April 2014 will mark the tenth anniversary of UNSCR 1540. This is an important milestone to reflect on ways and means for enhancing cooperation between the 1540 Committee and BWC States Parties, in particular since the UNSCR 1540 comprehensive review of 2009 identified BWs as one area in which States have adopted fewer measures.

Acknowledgement of UNSCR 1540 in the BWC Forum

Two years after the adoption of UNSCR 1540, in the Final Declaration of the Sixth Review Conference (2006), the BWC States Parties recognized the contribution of full and effective implementation of UNSCR 1540 by all States to assist in achieving the objectives of this Convention. This statement came in the preamble to the declaration. The BWC States Parties further invoked UNSCR 1540 under Article IV of the Convention, noting that “information provided to the United Nations by States in accordance with Resolution 1540 may provide a useful resource for States Parties in fulfilling their obligations under this Article.”

At the Seventh Review Conference in 2011, BWC States Parties also recognized “the contribution of the full and effective implementation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540, United Nations General Assembly Resolution 60/288, and other relevant United Nations resolutions.” They noted under Article IV that “resolution 1540 affirms support for the multilateral treaties whose aim is to eliminate or prevent proliferation of nuclear, chemical or biological weapons and the importance for all States Parties to these treaties to implement them fully in order to promote international stability,” and that “information provided to the United Nations by States in accordance with Resolution 1540 may provide a useful resource for States Parties in fulfilling their obligations under this Article.”

In between these two review conferences, only the 2008 Meeting of States Parties recalled “United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540 (2004) that places obligations on all States and is consistent with the provisions of the Convention.” Meeting participants noted that “depending on their national circumstances, in pursuing such programmes States Parties should,” inter alia, “coordinate outreach activities on the Convention with parallel initiatives in other settings, such as those undertaken on biosafety and biosecurity by WHO, efforts by the United Nations Security Council Resolution1540 Committee, etc.”

Finally, the 2013 Meeting of States Parties noted under the intersessional topic of “Strengthening National Implementation,” in the category of “Any potential further measures, as appropriate, relevant for implementation of the Convention” that States Parties considered a number of possible approaches to demonstrating their compliance with the national implementation obligations of the Convention, including, inter alia, providing information and regular updates to the Implementation Support Unit’s National Implementation Database and to the Security Council Resolution 1540 Committee.

In 2013, pursuant to a formal invitation from the BWC Chair, a 1540 Committee expert presented in the plenary of the Meeting of Experts and the Meeting of States Parties. In addition, a 1540 Committee member presented a statement on behalf of the 1540 Committee and its chair. Significantly, the 1540 Committee statement noted that “the information provided to the Committee by States, whether in the form of national reports or voluntary national implementation action plans often refers to States Parties’ fulfilling their obligations under Article 4 of the Convention. Such information also complements the BWC confidence building measures. Taken together, resolution 1540 (2004), BWC and CWC constitute a multi-layer system of preventing the use of disease or poison as weapons by constraining attempts to acquire or make such materials. This ‘web of prevention’ also helps strengthening the safety and security measures biological weapons-related materials, that is of those materials, equipment and technology covered by BWC and CWC, or included on national control lists, which could be used for the design, development, production or use of chemical and biological weapons and their means of delivery.”

Of note, several States Parties noted in their statements, interventions, or presentations at the 2013 Meeting of States Parties that their governments were striving to strengthen the implementation of UNSCR 1540.

UNSCR 1540 and the EU BWC Action

The EU Council’s Decision in Support of the Biological Weapons Convention (BWC Action) is being implemented by UNODA-Geneva and national partners. The BWC Action was mandated by Council Decision 2012/421/CFSP, adopted by the Council on July 23, 2012. The measure is broadly anchored in the European Union’s Common Position for the Seventh Review Conference of the BWC (Council Decision 2011/429/CFSP of July 18, 2011) and focuses in particular on those aspects on which consensus was reached at the Seventh Review Conference held in 2011. The BWC Action aims to support the BWC on the international, regional, and national levels through three major projects: universality and national implementation; confidence in compliance; and strengthening international cooperation on and encouraging international discussion of the future of the BWC.

The BWC Action consists of the following projects:

  • Project 1: Regional Workshops (one each in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the Caribbean, and Eastern Europe)
  • Project 2: Extended National Implementation Assistance Programs (for up to eight BWC States Parties to adopt appropriate legislative or administrative measures to ensure effective implementation and enforcement to prevent and punish BWC violations; to create or enhance national coordination and networking among all stakeholders involved in the BWC process, including national and regional biosafety associations and the private sector; to increase participation in confidence-building measures; to establish codes of conduct and standards on biosafety and biosecurity; and to encourage States to voluntarily implement the BWC prior to their accession—in which case ratification/accession to the treaty would form part of the action plan of activities to be agreed upon)
  • Project 3: Enabling Tools and Activities (to enable and support effective national implementation of the BWC; promote wider participation in BWC meetings; and enhance the preparedness, detection, and response capabilities of States and the UN Secretary General’s Mechanism for the Investigation of Alleged Use of Chemical and Biological Weapons)

The BWC Action is an illustrative example of following through on the recommendation of the 2008 Meeting of States Parties “to coordinate outreach activities on the Convention with parallel initiatives in other settings, such as those undertaken on biosafety and biosecurity by WHO, efforts by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1540 Committee, etc.” In 2013, under the auspices of the BWC Action, the 1540 Committee experts participated in the Regional Workshop on National Implementation of the Biological Weapons Convention in Central America and the Caribbean (November 13-14, 2013, Mexico City, Mexico), Regional Workshop on National Implementation of the Biological Weapons Convention in South and South-East Asia (September 3-4, 2013, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), and the Regional Workshop on National Implementation of the Biological Weapons Convention in Eastern Europe (May 27- 29, 2013, Kiev, Ukraine). In addition, the 1540 experts also attended the EU Workshop in Support of the BWC Action Extended Assistance Programs (June 13, 2013, Geneva, Switzerland) and participated in the development of “Guidance for National Implementation of BWC”.

The regional workshops on BWC implementation should continue to promote the integration into the national objectives of BWC implementation the common objectives of UNSCR 1540 obligations and relevant national implementation action plans (including those related, inter alia, to BWC national implementation, International Health Regulations, the EU CBRN Centers of Excellence Initiative, and counterterrorism).

UNSCR 1540 and the BWC Assistance Mechanism

At the BWC Seventh Review Conference in 2011, States Parties agreed on “the value of working together to promote capacity building in the fields of vaccine and drug production, disease surveillance, detection, diagnosis, and containment of infectious diseases as well as biological risk management” and decided to establish a database system to facilitate requests for and offers of exchange of assistance and cooperation. States Parties were invited, individually or together with other States or international organizations, to submit on a voluntary basis to the Implementation Support Unit (ISU) any requirements, needs, or offers for assistance. Fast-forward to the 2013 BWC Meeting of States Parties, and several States decried the underutilization of this tool.

By contrast, dozens of States and international organizations offered assistance on UNSCR 1540 implementation (including on BWC implementation and relevant, related areas), and several States requested assistance on BWC implementation and biological risk management. Yet there is no formal connection or “cross-pollination” between the 1540 Committee’s database of requests and offers of assistance and that maintained by the BWC ISU.

At the tenth anniversary of UNSCR 1540, perhaps the time has come to review the assistance mechanism under UNSCR 1540 and the clearinghouse role of the 1540 Committee for the purpose of making it more effective and nimble. One step forward in that direction would be closer interaction between the 1540 Committee and the BWC ISU with regard to the BWC system of facilitating requests for and offers of exchange of assistance and cooperation. In 2013, moreover, Interpol, the WHO, and the World Organization for Animal Health registered with the 1540 Committee as assistance providers. This provides an opportunity to respond more effectively to requests for assistance on biological risk management submitted by States to the 1540 Committee.

UNSCR 1540, BWC, and the Role of Civil Society

Annex XVI of the 2011 Committee report to the Security Council noted that “engaging civil society in implementation of resolution 1540 (2004) remains an important yet difficult task for States.” The same may be said for the 1540 Committee itself. In 2010, the 1540 Committee adopted revised procedures to rationalize, improve and accelerate response to assistance requests and facilitate match-making. That document considers a request for assistance from a nongovernmental organization as an “informal request” that requires special authentication and handling, yet it does not recognize the wealth of knowledge and expertise of civil society in providing assistance with UNSCR 1540 implementation. By contrast, both the BWC system of assistance and the BWC Action recognize and take advantage of the assistance that may be provided by civil society entities such as the Verification Research, Training, and Information Center (VERTIC).

Civil society also plays an active role in increasing awareness of the common objectives of UNSCR 1540 and the BWC by inviting 1540 Committee experts to participate in side events organized on the margins of BWC meetings. A 1540 expert attended three such side events in 2013.

In this author’s opinion, UNSCR 1540 implementation may benefit the most from closer interaction between the 1540 Committee and civil society in promoting concerted outreach, education, and training activities in the areas covered by UNSCR 1540 in order to strengthen international nonproliferation efforts and enhance capacity-building. Such outreach, education, and training activities should cover, at a minimum, discussions of prohibited activities involving the proliferation of nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons and their means of delivery, as well as discussions of what are appropriate national controls over “related materials.” They should also include awareness-raising on Security Council definitions of “means of delivery,” “non-State actor,” and “related materials,” for the purpose of implementing UNSCR 1540; synergies and convergence between UNSCR 1540 obligations and those set forth in other treaties, conventions, and international agreements, and in other Security Council resolutions; and sharing of experiences, lessons learned, and effective practices in the areas covered by UNSCR 1540.

Information about courses or educational modules that cover UNSCR 1540 should be shared with UNODA to be included on UNODA’s its website on nonproliferation and disarmament education and training. To this author’s knowledge, the only educational module on UNSCR 1540 freely available online is the recent addition of a lecture on UNSCR 1540 obligations and its synergy and convergence with BWC, as well as its place in the global web of prevention. This lecture was developed by the University of Bradford as an addition to the Educational Module Resource (EMR) available at: http://www.brad.ac.uk/bioethics/educationalmoduleresource/englishlanguageversionofemr/.The EMR is a collaborative effort of the Bradford Disarmament Research Center, the National Defense Medical College in Japan, and the Landau Network Centro Volta in Italy.

The 1540 Committee website is a treasure trove of information and data that civil society can use to develop educational and training resources. As Albert Einstein once said, “the world as we have created it is a product of our thinking. It cannot be changed without changing our thinking.” We definitely need a change in thinking and attitude and a sustained and concerted effort to undertake outreach, education, and training activities in the areas covered by UNSCR 1540.

Civil society also has a key role in enhancing States’ efforts to adopt and enforce appropriate, effective laws prohibiting activities involving the proliferation of biological weapons and their means of delivery to non-state actors, in particular for terrorist purposes, as well as implementing and enforcing appropriate controls over related materials. Civil society could be the driver for strengthening national implementation by, inter alia, increasing awareness of UNSCR 1540 obligations and existing gaps in States’ legislation and enforcement programs; identifying needs as States compile voluntary National Action Plan; and sharing success stories and participating in delivering assistance on capacity-building with their respective governments. In addition, civil society, academia, and industry could put forward ideas on how the 1540 Committee can more effectively contribute to implementing UNSCR 1540, including by analyzing its current tools and methods for relevance and user-friendliness; conducting thematic outreach on specific areas identified by the 2009 Comprehensive Review as “low compliance”; and charting a way forward toward the 2016 Comprehensive Review of UNSCR 1540 implementation.

The BW proliferation and the insecurity of BW-related materials constitute a multifaceted problem that requires a multi-factorial solution. The effective and full implementation of UNSCR 1540 obligations should be complemented by developing codes of conduct, building a security culture, encouraging responsible conduct of scientific inquiry, increasing societal vigilance, and a nourishing a sustained effort at education, training and awareness-raising among all key stakeholders. In that regard, internationally harmonized codes of conduct (i.e., HCOC-like agreements) or UN Security Council resolutions, presidential statements, or General Assembly resolutions on the value of promoting a global security culture and responsible conduct of science may help States identify “soft” security measures complementing the legislative and enforcement framework required by UNSCR 1540 for its effective implementation. Such avenues of approach will also bring to the attention of BWC States Parties and non-Parties alike the common understandings of the 2013 Meeting of States Parties “on the value of using science responsibly as an overarching theme to enable parallel outreach efforts across interrelated scientific disciplines…,” as well as of “promoting education on the Convention and the dual-use nature of biotechnology, including through preparing easily accessible and understandable courses, integrating consideration of biosecurity with broader efforts on bioethics, and assessing the impact of such education.”

 . . . Full text | PDF

Past Issues